December 2008 Archive

Classifying Open Space: Streets, Boulevards & Parkways

December 30th, 2008

I recently came across an article written by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and John Nolen that breaks down the different types of public spaces that are required of large cities into six categories. The article entitled The Normal Requirements of American Towns and Cities in Respect to Public Open Spaces was originally printed in 1906 in the Charities and the Commons journal of social work, and provides an interesting – though sometimes dated – overview of what is required of an effective urban park system. I figured it might be interesting to overview the categories and attempt to apply the framework to Oklahoma City.  We’ll start with the first category today, and I will try to knock out the rest in subsequent days.


The first category of public space has to due exclusively with transportation infrastructure and how it can be effectively designed and utilized as park and/or open space.


Regular sidewalks and consistent street tree coverage turn Heritage Hills’ streets into great open spaces.

From the article:

All communities, no matter what their size may be, need to regard the plan, character and appearance of their streets.

Streets are without a doubt the most ubiquitous of open spaces and yet their quality as such is often quite poor. The number of streets in Oklahoma City that you would enjoy simply for the quality of the open space alone are few and far between. Older neighborhoods with good sidewalks and consistent street trees – like those found in Heritage Hills – provide some hope that OKC’s streets can do more to enhance our quality of life as an open space, not simply a route of transportation. However, on the whole, the lack of street trees and little attention paid to the quality of space, make Oklahoma City’s streets substandard, especially downtown where they have opportunity to be most utilized as pedestrian spaces.


Paris’s Champs Élysées is the world’s most famous boulevard.

Boulevards are usually arranged formally with rows of shade trees and parallel ways for those on foot and on wheels.

Beyond that which standard streets provide, boulevards allow for a more substantial contribution to a city’s open space. The authors point out that boulevards should be arranged formally and have paths for BOTH pedestrians and cars – such as Paris’s Champs Élysées (pictured above).

Classen Boulevard in Oklahoma City lacks the formality, trees, and pedestrians improvements that would make it functional as an open space.

As for Oklahoma City, the best example I can think of is Classen Boulevard, though in reality it is little more than a wide street with a median.  Classen lacks regular trees plantings and has minimal pedestrian improvements.  The street used to feature streetcars traveling down the center median, but today the street is used almost exclusively by cars.  Currently, the Core to Shore plans include the replacement of the current I-40 alignment with a multiway boulevard – inspired by the type found in Paris.  Hopefully this will provide a great new public space for the city.


Vondel Park in Amsterdam was cited by the author as an example of parkways as open space.

A parkway so far as it can be discriminated from a boulevard, includes more breadth of turf or planted ground and also usually narrow passages of natural scenery of varying widths, giving it a somewhat park-like character and inducing a less formal treatment of the roads, paths and accessory features. Parkways are frequently laid out along streams so as to include the natural beauty of brook or river scenery and to preserve the main surface water channels in public control, thus providing for the adequate and economical regulation of storm drainage and floods.

Edgemere Park utilizes a parkway designed to preserve the creek and floodplain as neighborhood open space.

Using parkways to create park space, manage stormwater, and preserve and enjoy the beauty of streams, was at one time a common practice in OKC. It was a key recommendation of the 1930 Hare & Hare plan and places in OKC like Edgemere Park (pictured above), Sparrow Park, and portions of Grand Boulevard, have great examples of how this type of open space can be effectively implemented.  Unfortunately, today we often back up development to streams so that it can not take advantage of the natural beauty or worse, we buy the stream underground in a pipe.  There is much to gained from returning to this practice of parkway development.

Would love to get your thoughts on Oklahoma City’s streets as public spaces. Where are we doing a good job? Where can we do better? What are some of your ideas to improve streets in this city?

Where the sidewalk ends…

December 24th, 2008

Really? Smack in the middle of a narrow sidewalk? Come on, we have to
do better than this!

Best of imagiNATIVEamerica 2008!

December 22nd, 2008

So I will be en route to Oklahoma City tomorrow and wanted to leave you with what I think are some of the best posts from the last six months.  Thanks for reading and have a Merry Christmas!

  1. Mapping Pedestrian Friendliness in OKC
  2. This was one of my earliest posts and still my favorite. I really like Gehl’s work and it is interesting to apply it to Oklahoma City. Check it out and try to contribute to the map of pedestrian friendly places. Though I heard from someone the other day that there is not really a reason to map pedestrian-friendliness in OKC, you can just count of the places on your fingers…:)

  3. Ten Must-Haves for OKC’s Downtown Park
  4. It is fun to dream about the future of the “central park” that is being planned as part of Core 2 Shore. OKC has needed a downtown park or other place to serve as the “heart” of the city for years and it seems it is finally coming. Check out the list and add your own lists!

  5. Oklahoma City’s 1910 Plan for Grand Boulevard by W.H. Dunn
  6. OKC has a fascinating planning history that is largely unexplored. I am in the middle of researching a thesis about this history and found this great plan for OKC’s parks and boulevards.

  7. The NEW I-40 Pedestrian Bridge
  8. The bridge is beautiful! What more is there to say?

  9. Bricktown Parking: Killing Two Birds with One Streetcar
  10. Parking in Bricktown was a hot topic last summer!  I say, if we really want to solve the parking problem then we have to think outside the box and take our first steps toward a downtown transit system. In this post I layout a plan to make it happen.

  11. I Love Oklahoma!
  12. First big post and it took me forever to produce; so there is some sentimental value there.

  13. What Is the Future of Suburbia?
  14. Ideas that I enjoy discussing (keeping comment vague and general because I can’t remember exactly what I talked about).

  15. Oklahoma City Gas Counter
  16. Tells an amazing story! The steep “double black diamond” slope on the right shows both my stock portfolio, as well as my dreams for cities that encourage biking, walking, and smart urban form, come crashing down.

  17. Walkability Rankings: Oklahoma City #35
  18. I love cities that allow for walking and think Oklahoma City has plenty of room for improvement – as this walkability ranking attests. This post overviews the rankings, some of the flaws with their analysis, and discusses other issues related to walkability in Oklahoma City.

  19. Axel Peemoeller’s Funky Parking Garage
  20. This is just sweet!

BONUS: Sunrise in Boston!

I am digging this new mobile upload feature and can’t believe I scored this amazing sunrise the day after I set it up! Looking forward to many more posts on the go in 2009!

T-Shirt Competition: Here are the results!

December 20th, 2008

So my ill conceived and poorly executed t-shirt contest is finally coming to a close. I only received two entries; which is surely due to the lack of effort I put in to promoting the contest and not the lack of creativity and graphic design talent that exist in this city. In the original post I wrote: “obviously, I am no expert at holding t-shirt competitions” and while that was confirmed to be true, I did not expect to do this poor of job holding the competition; perhaps the uptick in school work is to blame. Anyway, I will have to learn a couple things before I go the blog-competition-route again. That said, there area a couple great things that came out of this contest:

  1. Got two solid designs, which the designers deserve a lot of credit for producing
  2. I didn’t have to make any tough decisions while distributing the prize money – I simply called it a tie and am giving them each $70!

So with that, lets check out the designs!


Seth Clark
Sustainable living from the beginning



Designer: John Ross
Doing it Green in Oklahoma since bows and arrows


So thanks to John and Seth for participating. If you would like to purchase either of the designs, please email me and we will get it figured out. Thanks!

Here Lies…

December 20th, 2008

…Sam Adams and about a foot of fresh snow! Taken today near Park Street Church.

‘Tulsa Deco’ is worth watching!

December 19th, 2008

Tulsa is proud of its architectural heritage and for good reason. Oklahoma City’s in-state neighbor and longtime sparring partner has been blessed with a number of notable structures throughout the years, and a number of great buildings built during Tulsa’s heyday as the Oil Capitol of the World continue to enrich the City. Of course Tulsa is best known for one architectural style in particular – Art Deco.  And Jack Frank’s newest DVD – Tulsa Deco – is a great way to get acquainted with some of the City’s Art Deco and Streamline Moderne gems.

The DVD is an impressive production, with Jack providing an informative narrative that is supported by interviews with architects, historians, owners, and even some random passers-by. While the narration is informative, I have to say that the perspective is slanted in such a way that it would lead you to believe that Tulsa is the epicenter of the entire Art Deco movement. While Tulsa was featured on the cover of last year’s Preservation Magazine with an article entitled, “Tulsa’s Deco Gems: How an Oklahoma City Fell in Love with Art Deco and Never Really Got Over It,” the city still significantly trails other major Art Deco and Streamline Moderne hubs in the number of significant buildings and status in the Art Deco world.  According to the National Trust Guide to Art Deco in America the principal centers for both styles were the “major urban centers: New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, [and] San Francisco.” South Beach Miami is also often cited for its collection of Art Deco hotels.  So while Tulsa’s significance in the Art Deco world may be overstated to a degree, I can appreciate Jack’s intentions and know myself what it is to be a optimistic booster of your hometown.  Plus it should be mentioned that what Tulsa may lack in numbers and historic role, it in some ways makes up for with the quality of its contributions.

For instance, my favorite building featured in the DVD, and what appears to be the favorite of many, is the Boston Avenue Methodist Church (pictured above).  Designed by Bruce Goff, native son and architect extraordinaire, and Adah M. Robinson, his art teach, the church is said to be one of the finest examples of Art Deco in the world. Here is what the National Trust Guide has to say:

That building type so favored by Art Deco architects – the skyscraper – was here adapted for a 255-foot-high church tower.  Like Barry Byrne’s nearby Christ the King Church, Goff’s design transmutes Gothic verticality into Expressionist Art Deco verticality.  The church itself, which has a semicircular auditorium, is a low-lying, horizontally oriented structure.  Yet Goff has manipulated his composition to read as a narrow and soaring building … [Goff] managed to produce one of the most brilliant examples of Art Deco in the country.

The DVD not only introduced me to this building, but a number of others that I had never had the pleasure of seeing. Also, it gives you just enough information and detail to make you feel like you learned something without getting bogged down in architectural jargon.  In the end, I congratulate Jack on a job well done and encourage anyone interested in Oklahoma’s architectural history to buy a copy, borrow a friends, or catch it on local television in Tulsa!

Hungry for more, check out the trailer below before heading over to Bateslines for a more extensive (i.e. better) review with details on which buildings are covered in the DVD and information on the extras.

Sunrise in Boston!

December 19th, 2008

Taken today at 6:47am.

New feature: mobile uploads

December 18th, 2008

This is a new feature that will make it easy to instantly post directly from my phone. For instance, this is a picture I took (with my phone) looking out over Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont. Look forward to using this feature, which thanks to Flickr is free and fairly east to setup, though these fat fingers and the phone keyboard are sure to make for some bad typos!

Finals are over. Back to blogging!

December 18th, 2008

Okay, so finals are over and I no longer have any excuses for my pathetic blogging record.  Over the last few months it has been really sparse, but hopefully the break from school will give me an opportunity to get back in the flow.  There is plenty to talk about and I want to make sure I get back to focusing on the topics that I started this blog for in the first place, namely: planning, development, and urban design, as it relates to Oklahoma City and the rest of Oklahoma.  Plus, don’t forget I am currently doing research on a thesis related to the history of planning and development in Oklahoma City, so expect to see some thoughts culled from this work that will be taking up a large part of my day-to-day for the next 6 months.

My next few post will be tying up some loose ends from the past couple months, and then we are off to the races. Also note, that I have modified my template so that I don’t have to mess with pulling excerpt out for a front page.  This should allow for more post, some of which will be a bit shorter.

One final note, I will be headed back to OKC on the 22nd and expect to stay for at least a week.  Any long lost friends out there or future friends in waiting – feel free to hit me up!  Or if you have some ideas on something cool I need to see while in town (new development, architecture, etc, etc), please let me know.

Have a very Merry Christmas and do something to remember why your celebrating it!